Sometimes the greatest lessons we learn come at a great cost. We learned those lessons on a beautiful, perfect morning 15 Septembers ago.
The attacks on the World Trade Center opened our eyes to many lapses in the society in which we lived.
We learned that a few years prior, the owners of some U.S. flight schools reported that several Arabic speaking men were coming to the school to take flight lessons. That normally would not be out of the ordinary except they only wanted to learn to operate the controls. They were not interested in taking off, landing, flight planning or weather. The owners of the flight schools reported that to the authorities but the authorities determined the information did not prove anything malicious and filed it away.
We learned our cities did not have a great plan of how to respond to mass scale emergencies. They didn’t know how to fight a fire on the upper floors of a mega hi-rise. We learned that many people died because instructions given to them by building security and emergency 911 workers was to stay inside the building and do not leave. People were told if the left the building, they would lose their jobs. We learned that because of this, some people had to make terrible choices.
We learned our governments worked in a bubble, no agency talking to any other agency. No one shared information even if they knew a problem was imminent. There was no sharing of files or information even for the safety of the country. There had been chatter of an attack a few months before it happened. The agency with the information kept it to themselves. There were names of potential people who could do us harm but no one shared the information with other agencies.
We learned our Military had no authority to make immediate decisions. The Military waited for orders from the Vice President who waited on orders from the President. We also learned our fighter jets, that were supposed to be ready to defend us, were not kept armed and at the ready.
We learned the FAA and the Airport Authorities did not have a plan for dealing with several hijacked airplanes. They found it difficult to track what airplane was where and what plane was a hijack. Misinformation was given to the Military causing chaos on both sides.
One of the most important lessons we learned was going overboard with rules didn’t make us any safer than not having enough rules. We learned this by the subsequent actions of the attempted shoe bomber and the attempted underwear bomber.
I hope we never have to find out if these deficiencies have been fixed. I hope we never have to learn anymore hard lessons like those 15 Septembers ago.